A Bradford university professor was today defending his controversial critique of Diana, Princess of Wales, as a muddled, self-obsessed woman who damaged the monarchy, her children and herself.

Friends and admirers of Diana have attacked philosophy professor Anthony O'Hear for denigrating the memory of the princess so soon after her death last year.

But the professor said his intention was not to offend anyone but to investigate the unprecedented strength of national feeling towards her untimely death.

His comments have been included as one of 12 essays in a book entitled Faking It: The Sentimentalisation of Modern Society, which has been publicised by the right-wing think-tank, the Social Affairs Unit.

Bradford University was today inundated with calls from the world's media, attempting to track down the professor, whose views have caused a national and international sensation.

Prof O'Hear said: "Diana encapsulates attitudes which are very widespread in contemporary Britain which before her funeral hadn't been crystallised so definitely and directly.

"The sort of attitudes I mean are the elevation of feeling over reason, self-expression over discipline, self-esteem over objective duty and, above all, a sense of oneself as a victim rather than as responsible for what one is and what one has become.

"These attitudes are ones which are fundamentally hostile to notions and traditions of hierarchy and formality and so on. It was for this reason that a lot of people liked her.

"But the monarchy depends on notions of that sort and it is in that sense that she could be said to be damaging to the monarchy.

"What intrigues me is the way that someone of this sort has been taken up and virtually canonised.

"The main aim of my piece isn't to attack her as such. What I'm interested in is the reaction of the whole nation at the time of her funeral, which is probably the most meaningful event there has been for decades.

"It seems to me perfectly proper to ask questions to try to investigate just what was being commemorated there and what people were grieving about there, why they were so upset."

But former Tory minister Lord St John of Fawsley described the article as "a farrago of prejudiced nonsense".

He said: "The Princess of Wales is one of the great figures of our time.

"Her appeal lay precisely in that she elevated feeling to the highest position. That is why people responded to her - they knew she really cared."

And Tory MP Peter Luff said: "The overwhelming majority of people will find O'Hear's remarks distasteful and inappropriate. He would have been well advised to have kept his views to himself so soon after her death."

The British Red Cross, which spearheads the campaign to ban landmines, and the homeless charity, Centrepoint, also defended Diana.

A spokesman for Bradford University today said: "Academics are free to speak up for their own opinions.

"We are not in the business of censorship or taking a position on public issues."

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